Nebuchadnezzar II (reigned 605-562 BC), greatest king of the neo-Babylonian, or
Chaldean, dynasty, who conquered much of southwestern Asia; known also for his
extensive building in the major cities of Babylonia.
The eldest son of Nabopolassar, Nebuchadnezzar commanded a Babylonian army late
in his father's reign and in 605 BC triumphed over Egyptian forces at the decisive
Battle of Carchemish in Syria, which made Babylonia the primary military power in
the Middle East. After his father's death, Nebuchadnezzar returned to Babylon and
ascended the throne on September 7, 605 BC. During the next eight years he campaigned
extensively in the west against Syria, Palestine, and Egypt and against the Arabs.
On March 16, 597 BC, he captured Jerusalem and took Jehoiakim, king of Judah, and
many of his people captive to Babylonia. He was subsequently troubled by major revolts
in Babylonia (594 BC) and in Judah (588-587 BC), which were vigorously punished;
many more Jews were exiled to Babylonia. Nebuchadnezzar also conducted a 13-year
siege of the Phoenician city of Tyre and launched an invasion of Egypt in 568 BC.
During the latter part of his reign, as the empire of the Medes increased in power
to the north and east, Nebuchadnezzar built a wall, known as the Median Wall, in
northern Babylonia to keep out the potential invader.
Nebuchadnezzar's conquests brought in much booty and tribute, creating an age of
prosperity for Babylonia. He undertook an ambitious construction program, rebuilding
the temples in the major cult cities and refurbishing his capital at Babylon with
a splendid ziggurat (pyramid temple) as well as other shrines, palaces, fortification
walls, and processional ways. Later legend credited him with building one of the
Seven Wonders of the World, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, for his Median wife
Amyitis. Nebuchadnezzar died in early October 562 BC and was succeeded by his son
Amel-Marduk (the biblical Evil-Merodach).
The Babylonian civilization, which endured from the 18th until the 6th century BC,
was, like the Sumerian that preceded it, urban in character, although based on
agriculture rather than industry. The country consisted of a dozen or so cities,
surrounded by villages and hamlets. At the head of the political structure was the
king, a more or less absolute monarch who exercised legislative and judicial as
well as executive powers. Under him was a group of appointed governors and
administrators. Mayors and councils of city elders were in charge of local administration.
The Babylonians modified and transformed their Sumerian heritage in accordance with
their own culture and ethos. The resulting way of life proved to be so effective
that it underwent relatively little change for some 1200 years. It exerted influence
on all the neighboring countries, especially the kingdom of Assyria, which adopted
Babylonian culture almost in its entirety. Fortunately, many written documents from
this period have been excavated and made available to scholars. One of the most
important is the remarkable collection of laws often designated as the Code of
Hammurabi, which, together with other documents and letters belonging to different
periods, provides a comprehensive picture of Babylonian social structure and